CENTREVILLE, CAPE SABLE ISLAND, N.S. - Some birds are worth getting up at 4:30 a.m. to see.
Jason Dain drove two-and-a-half hours from Upper Tantallon to Centreville, Cape Sable Island, Shelburne County, on Oct. 17, arriving at 7:15 a.m. to see a white pelican perched on a rock sleeping.
“It did that for quite a while, only lifting its head up periodically to look around,” he said.
As the bird slumbered, then awoke, Dain was busily snapping with his Nikon d500 DSLR camera, using a 500f4 lens and 1.4x teleconverter on a tripod.
Alix d'Entremont, who (along with Murray Newell) represents Shelburne and Yarmouth counties for the Nova Scotia Bird Society, says American white pelicans are less than annual in Nova Scotia, but that the one at Cape Sable Island is actually the fourth this year in the southwest part of the province. Jerome d'Eon saw three in Overton, Yarmouth County, on Aug. 24.
“The last record for the area before this year was of two in Pubnico harbour on Dec. 7, 2015 – the latest ever recorded in Nova Scotia,” says d’Entremont.
There was also an American white pelican at Pembroke in June 2012. The pelican at Cape Sable Island would be the 19th recorded for the province outside of a hurricane-brought group of 50 in Kings County in 1948. Johnny Nickerson, a birder on Cape Sable Island, believes it is the first recorded for the island, which matches the results of d’Entremont’s research.
Because there hasn't been a recent one recorded near Halifax, most of the newer birders from there would not have seen one.
D’Entremont says this individual is a migrant that has travelled farther east than is typical.
“As long as it is not injured and is well fed, it should have no problems surviving a little while on Cape Sable Island, since they can be found in the northern U.S. and Canada into November,” says d’Entremont.
“They feed mostly on small schooling fish, but also take larger bottom feeders, salamanders, tadpoles and crayfish. It scoops prey into its pouch then swallows it.”
In mid-October, there are American white pelicans being seen from Western Canada to Panama. This bird should be somewhere west of the Mississippi, says d’Entremont.
Dain says he’s seen many out west in his travels but never one in Nova Scotia.
Yarmouth-based photographer Ervin Olsen says it’s very exciting to see this beautiful and rare bird in the area.
“I hope it stays long enough so that other folks wiĺl get to share the excitement as well,” he says.
Reporter Carla Allen had an unusual encounter with a brown pelican in December 2006. Here's her account from back then:
YARMOUTH, N.S. - As the holidays wrap up for another year I can't help but think back to December 2006 - the year I caught a pelican.
Driving home from work two days after Christmas I saw a string of cars parked on the shoulder off the South Ohio overpass. Slowing down, I saw a strange bird strolling along the center line. The warmest temperatures in 117 years had just been recorded the past week but it was still mighty unusual to recognize a pelican.
I asked the crowd if anyone had a blanket in their car. One woman scurried to assist. I tossed it over the bird. He was easy to catch - weak and hungry, he made little fuss. A Natural Resources officer was on the way, so when he arrived I passed the pelican over for a snap, bearing in mind my editor's frequent reminder... Carla, we REPORT the news, we don't make it.
I remember how his top beak ended in a tiny hook and how sheer the membrane of that huge pouch felt. A band on his leg later identified him as one of 259 brown pelican chicks banded on Wainwright Island, North Carolina on July 27, 2003. Naturalists suspect that storms blew him off track.
He was delivered to the Eastern Shore Wildlife Rehab Centre in Seaforth where Hope Swinimer nursed him back to health. Named Nigel, after a pelican in the movie Finding Nemo, the bird flew to Florida the easy way courtesy of Air Canada a short while later.
I spoke to Wendy Fox at the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station in Miami after his arrival. “Your little pal’s doing great!” she said. They planned on keeping him at the facility for a little while because of some frostbite on his toes.
“We’ve got him in a pen with slow moving birds then I’ll move him over to the rowdy crowd. They’re all his age,” she said.
More about white pelicans
Pelicans are large birds with a typical maximum weight of 9 kg. (19.8 lbs.), a wingspan of up to 290 cm (9.5 feet) and a bill length of up to 365 mm. (1.2 feet).
READ ALSO: From the archives: Pelicans visit West Pubnico in December 2017
READ ALSO: From the archives, Oct. 2017: Rare bird recorded in Yarmouth is first in province